Gaza’s children deserve to be rescued like the boys in Thailand

First published by the Middle East Eye 12/7/1018

Palestinian children see the efforts put into the rescue of the Thai boys and wonder why nobody cares as much about them

The whole world rejoiced when 12 boys trapped in a cave in Thailand were rescued alongside their football coach. Divers from around the world risked their lives to help the children, a truly remarkable and selfless act. One died in the process.

The darkness, uncertainty, hunger and hopelessness that the children must have experienced reminded me of the predicament of Palestinian children in Gaza – trapped through no fault of their own. Their only crime is being born Palestinian under occupation by a state that sees them as an irritant, a demographic threat and collateral damage if they die at the hands of Israeli forces, as some did in the Great March of Return.

A whole generation born under siege, they have not seen the villages from where most of their families hail. They hear of Jerusalem, al-Aqsa, Haifa, Yaffa, Jericho, Nablus and Hebron, but they have not seen them, even though these places are just a short distance away.

Israel as a violent entity

These children march with their families to the fence with Israel, demanding to return to their villages. Instead, they are met with the brutality of the occupier, as dozens are killed and thousands injured. They see posters of the martyred, including 21-year-old medic Razan al-Najjar, and ask why they were shot dead.

The answer, always, is because this is what Israel does. Their experience with Israel shows it as a violent entity, not the democracy that its spokespeople try to spin.

The daily lives of children in Gaza are miserable, as they have little access to electricity or clean water, but plenty of exposure to Israeli bombs and that unmistakable sound of Israel’s terror drones, which occupy Gaza’s sky.

They see what the world looks like on TV, but quickly realise that at the current rate, they have no chance of ever experiencing it for themselves. They aspire to go to university, but quickly realise that the pride they will one day feel at graduating will be followed by great disappointment as they struggle to find employment.

Their Thai counterparts eventually saw freedom, but the children of Gaza and their families cannot see their own freedom coming any time soon.

Immovable Hamas

Gaza is a prison with two land crossings: one to Israel and the other to Egypt, both almost continuously sealed. More than a decade of an immoral siege has not brought a capitulation by Hamas or an uprising against it by those it rules.

Hamas in Gaza is a fact on the ground that is immovable. The siege only hurts the people, inciting Gaza’s children to hate Israel for the death and the destruction it has heaped on their tiny sliver of land, the most densely populated in the world.

Boys from the Palestinian Bakr family, who survived an Israeli attack in 2014 war, walk on the beach in Gaza (AFP)

These children have grown up amid divisions between Fatah and Hamas. They hear of imminent reconciliation between the two factions, but see their president impose sanctions on them. They hear that Gaza will be uninhabitable by 2020 – but they will tell you to come and see it today, look them in the eye, and say it is still habitable now.

They see the efforts put in to rescue the Thai boys and wonder why nobody cares as much about them. They hear that US President Donald Trump has a plan to help them and that his most senior advisers are on the case, but conversations in the besieged enclave fill them not with hope, but with fear that their leaders are being pressured to abandon their struggle and surrender if they want a better daily life under permanent occupation.

After claiming to have taken Jerusalem “off the table” by recognising it as Israel’s capital and moving the US embassy there, Trump’s team has been consulting further in the region on the administration’s plan to deliver “peace” to the holy land. But the US action has failed to create a climate for peace, as evidenced by the ongoing Great March of Return and Palestinians’ decision to sever contact with the Americans.

The mirage of the ‘ultimate deal’

Despite the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to discuss the deal, the Americans appear to be moving to implement the second stage of the yet-unpublished plan – that of bringing economic relief to Gaza, funded by some of the Gulf states. If the Trump team believes that Palestinians in Gaza are simply looking for some economic relief, then they are as naive now as when they began their sordid endeavours.

Gaza’s children are even more confused after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently opted to tighten the noose around them by closing the “commercial crossing” at Kerem Shalom as punishment for the continuing rudimentary kites and balloons launched from Gaza, which have damaged crops on the Israeli side of the fence. Israel has attacked those launching what they bizarrely call “terror kites”.

If the heavy sacrifices made by Gaza’s Palestinians since the Great March of Return began on 30 March are not sufficient evidence that “economic peace” is a mirage, then the US, Israel and their new Arab allies have underestimated Palestinians’ resilience and their insistence on attaining their rights. As far as the Palestinians are concerned, the Americans will not be able to use Gaza to prop up their heavily damaged “ultimate deal”.

The Trump administration should take inspiration from the rescue of the Thai boys, planned meticulously to end their predicament, not to serve an ideological goal of helping Israel to entrench its control over the whole of historic Palestine. They should act to end the suffering of the two million Palestinians in Gaza, without preconditions, and give its children some hope for an end to their imprisonment – just as the brave divers did for the Thai boys in the cave.

Es hora de que la comunidad internacional defienda a los niños palestinos

Monitor de Oriente 7/12/2017

Niños palestinos haciendo sus deberes en una chabola de un barrio pobre de Gaza [Ezz Zanoun/Apaimages]

 

El maltrato que Israel perpetra contra los niños palestinos no es ninguna novedad. Más bien es un ejemplo de las muchas maneras en las que rompe con el derecho internacional y el derecho internacional humanitario. Aunque, en el pasado, se ha enfrentado a críticas por su maltrato de los niños palestinos, sobre todo en relación a los niños que son llevados bajo custodia y ante sus tribunales militares, estas acciones aún no han recibido verdaderas represalias.

Por lo tanto, es alentador que puede que esto esté a punto de cambiar y, encima, en Estados Unidos. La Ley de Promoción de los Derechos Humanos para Acabar con la Detención Israelí de Niños Palestinos requiere que el Secretario de Estado certifique anualmente que los fondos invertidos o gastados por Estados Unidos en ayuda de Israel “no respaldan la detención militar, los interrogatorios, el abuso o los malos tratos que reciben los niños palestinos”. La legislación mantiene vigente la asistencia financiera comprometida con Israel.

El proyecto de ley destaca que Israel ratificó la Convención de los Derechos del Niño el 3 de octubre de 1991, que establece – (A), en el artículo 38 (a) que; “ningún niño sufrirá tortura u otro trato o castigo cruel, inhumano o degradante”. Declara que “en la Cisjordania ocupada por Israel, existen dos sistemas legales separados. La ley militar israelí se impone a los palestinos y la ley civil israelí que se aplica a los colonos israelíes”.

Además, señala que el ejército israelí detiene a entre 500 y 700 niños palestinos de edades comprendidas entre los 12 y los 17 años cada año, a los que procesa ante un sistema judicial militar que, según establece la ley, “carece de las garantías básicas y fundamentales del proceso, violando los estándares internacionales”.

Defence for Children International – Palestine (DICP) señala que “Israel tiene distinción de ser el único país que procesa sistemáticamente a entre 500 y 700 niños todos los años en tribunales militares que carecen de los derechos justos de juicio y de protección”. Además, destaca que, en los 590 casos documentados por DCIP entre 2012 y 2016, el 72% de los niños palestinos detenidos denunciaron actos de violencia física, y el 66% sufrió maltrato verbal y humillaciones.

Según Khaled Quzmar, Director General de DCIP, “a pesar del continuo compromiso con organismos de la ONU y de las muchas peticiones a acatar el derecho internacional, el ejército y la policía israelíes continúan con los arrestos nocturnos, la violencia física, la coerción y las amenazas contra los niños palestinos”.

La reciente introducción del proyecto de ley en el Congreso estadounidense tiene como objetivo evitar que los dólares de los impuestos de EEUU paguen las violaciones de los derechos humanos de los niños palestinos durante el curso de una detención militar israelí. Pretende establecer, como mínimo, una demanda estadounidense en favor de los derechos básicos del proceso y de la total prohibición de la tortura y el maltrato contra los niños palestinos detenidos y procesados en el sistema judicial militar de Israel.

En 2012, la Oficina de Asuntos Exteriores y de la Commonwealth británica encargó a nueve abogados un informe sobre el problema humanitario con los niños palestinos. En sus conclusiones, afirma que “Israel incumple los artículos 2 (discriminación), 3 (intereses del niño), 37(b) (recurso prematuro a la detención), (c) (no separación de sus familiares adultos) y (d) (acceso inmediato a abogados), y 40 (uso de grilletes) 111 de la Convención de la ONU sobre los Derechos del Niño”. Además, concluyó, basándose en sus descubrimientos, que “Israel también se salta la prohibición del trato cruel, inhumano o degradante del artículo 37(a) de la Convención. El transporte de prisioneros menores a Israel incumple el artículo 76 de la Cuarta Convención de Ginebra. La falta de traducción de la Orden Militar 1676 del hebreo es una violación del artículo 65 de la Cuarta Convención de Ginebra”.

El informe hace cuatro recomendaciones básicas y 40 específicas. La mayoría de las recomendaciones destacan las muchas infracciones que tienen que abordar las autoridades israelíes. En lugar de intentar asumir las recomendaciones del informe en 2016, Israel se negó a cooperar con el equipo que realizaría una visita de seguimiento para revisar hasta qué punto se habían adoptado las recomendaciones. Esto hizo que se cancelara la visita, y el FCO de Reino Unido no logró convencer a los israelíes para que la retomaran.

En respuesta a una pregunta del presidente del Grupo Parlamentario Reino Unido-Palestina, el entonces ministro de Exteriores, Tobias Ellwood, dijo: “Expresé mi decepción ante la falta de voluntad de Israel a albergar esta visita de seguimiento con la viceministra de Exteriores, Tzipi Hotovely, en mi visita a Israel el 18 de febrero. Varios oficiales de la embajada británica de Tel Aviv, incluido el embajador, también presionaron al ministerio de Exteriores británico para que cooperara, y lo seguirán haciendo. Seguimos comprometidos a trabajar con Israel para mejorar las prácticas respecto a los niños detenidos en el país”.

Hace poco, el parlamento británico ha considerado el problema de los niños palestinos y el trato que reciben por parte de Israel. Inicialmente, esto lo expresó un instrumento parlamentario llamado Early Day Motion (EDM). La EDM 563 se emitió el 20 de noviembre, y establece que “esta Cámara contempla con preocupación cómo cientos de niños palestinos siguen siendo arrestados y juzgados en tribunales militares israelíes, a pesar de su práctica de continuas violaciones del derecho internacional”.

La moción “señala la disparidad entre el trato que dan las autoridades israelíes a los niños palestinos, y exige que éstos no sean tratados de manera inferior a un niño israelí”.

La EDM 563 destaca con preocupación que “las recomendaciones del Informe sobre los Niños en Detención Militar en Israel de Unicef de 2013 siguen sin cumplirse, y requiere al gobierno que se comprometa urgentemente con el gobierno israelí para poner fin las constantes violaciones de los derechos humanos que sufren sistemáticamente los niños palestinos bajo custodia militar israelí”.

Cuando este texto fue escrito, 65 miembros (de 650) del parlamento habían firmado la moción. Esto incluye el apoyo de parlamentarios individuales de todos los partidos políticos de Inglaterra, Escocia y Gales. 

Las últimas medidas que han tomado el Congreso y el Parlamento británicos para señalar el abuso de Israel de los derechos de los niños palestinos ha sido bien recibido por Palestina y sus partidarios. Ha llevado décadas que los derechos de los niños recibieran algo de atención real. Si se aprueba la ley en Estados Unidos, supondría un verdadero cambio en la política que condicionaría parte de los fondos otorgados a Israel para cumplir con el respeto a los derechos humanos; en concreto, los de los niños palestinos. Si no se aprueba, el mensaje que recibirán los niños palestinos es que Estados Unidos no se preocupa por su situación. Un EDM con apoyo en el parlamento británico llamará la atención sobre el tema y permitirá que se consigan acciones reales del gobierno para que presione a Israel a cambiar su inaceptable trato contra los niños palestinos, tanto moral como legalmente.

Es hora de que los niños palestinos reciban protección ante los abusos de las fuerzas ocupantes. A Israel no le incomodan sus abusos, y esto sólo cambiará cuando la comunidad internacional haga algo para ayudar a los maltratados. En cuanto a Israel, un Estado sin moral, cuando se trata de palestinos, al menos podrían aplicarles las mismas prácticas y leyes a los niños palestinos y a los suyos propios.

East Jerusalem is occupied but the hearts and minds of the children are not

This column first appeared in the Middle East Eye on 6/10/2016

Jerusalem has a special place in the hearts of people all over the world. I was fortunate to visit it again recently, or rather “return”, as my parents were both born in this great city.

My first sighting of the Dome of the Rock never fails to send a shiver down my spine. There is no other place like it. It is home to holy sites revered by followers of the world’s three great religions Islam, Christianity and Judaism. They are literally within shouting distance of each other.

Politically, Jerusalem is claimed by Israel as its “eternal united capital”, but the Palestinians too claim East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. No state, apart from Israel, considers it to be Israel’s capital and, in the absence of a Palestinian state, Palestinians can only dream of it becoming their capital.

The additional reality is that far from it being united, the city is divided into West Jerusalem, which is predominantly, if not exclusively, inhabited by Jews today after the expulsion of its Palestinian residents by Jewish gangs in 1948, and East Jerusalem with an overwhelmingly Palestinian population but an increasing number of Jewish settlers in illegal settlements which Israel has been building since the capture of East Jerusalem in 1967.

One city, two worlds

The contrast between the two Jerusalems could not be starker. As a friend who recently visited for the first time told me: “I could not believe the difference between west and east. The west in many places had a western, American feel with wide roads, pavements and grass verges, while the east seemed underdeveloped, crowded and chaotic.”

There are many aspects of the occupation of East Jerusalem that are troubling, including the settlements, the wall, house demolitions, house evictions, arbitrary closures, attacks on Al-Aqsa mosque and lack of permits for Palestinians to build and expand. However, the situation for children is particularly disturbing.

A quick drive through east and west reveals almost no playgrounds or parks for Palestinian children in East Jerusalem to use while a visitor would encounter many well-equipped playgrounds and parks in the predominantly Jewish west.

While Palestinian families occasionally make use of facilities in West Jerusalem, they do so reluctantly, fearing discrimination and harassment by their Jewish counterparts. Instead, some choose to make a journey to Ramallah or Jericho for their children’s and their leisure outings. This is sad because it reduces the opportunities for interaction between the two communities, especially the children, before their characterisation of the other is formed through parental or societal influence.

You have to ask what the municipality presiding over both parts of the city is doing to deliver services to the Palestinian taxpayers, who cannot turn to the Palestinian Authority for them because Israel does not allow it to operate in Jerusalem.

Never shall they meet

Opportunities for Jewish and Palestinian children to mix at school are almost non-existent. Jerusalem’s only Arab-Jewish school has faced attacks from Jewish extremists including an arson attack in November 2014, anti-Arab graffiti in June 2015, and even had its listing on Waze, a google-owned app changed to “a threat”.

While the two populations are largely segregated, the level of poverty in the city affects both communities with some 50 percent of Jerusalem’s 850,000 residents living below the poverty line including 82 percent of the population in East Jerusalem.

The impact of Israel’s “security needs” on Palestinian children is profound. Every year, hundreds are arrested and interrogated. Between January and the end of August, 560 children alone were detained by Israel. Many are taken during the night or in the early hours of the morning. They are reportedly often deprived of the presence of a parent or lawyer and sometimes are made to sign confessions written in Hebrew under duress.

In the absence of reasonable provision of leisure facilities and under a brutal daily occupation you would think that children can find some comfort, enjoyment and security in their East Jerusalem schools.

Well, on the face of it, this should be possible. However, in reality there is no happy story to tell. Israel, through its occupation, is on a mission to attract the hearts and minds of Palestinian children, to love it, adore it and accept it as the ruling entity over them, without question.

During my visit, I witnessed the start of the new school year. Families were busy buying books, stationary and the status symbol school bag for their children. The bag tends to be in the style of the current craze. This year, it seemed anything depicting images from Disney’s Frozen was a must have.

One of my young relatives was upset not because she had not bought a Frozen bag and book covers, but because her cousin was also planning to buy the same. “Why can’t she buy Mini Mouse?” she asked. Children will be children. She, like most if not all Palestinian children, was oblivious to the battle for her identity and belonging that is being waged by Israel on Jerusalem’s youngest residents.

Chronic shortage of space

East Jerusalem’s schools suffer from a basic lack of infrastructure and resources.

A report published in August by the nonprofit organisation Ir Amim found that the number of East Jerusalem’s Palestinian children studying in the “informal education system” – schools which are publicly recognised, but only partially funded and operated by third parties – has surpassed those studying in both the formal education system, which are fully publicly funded and operated, and those who study in private schools.

Ir Amim reported that the shortage of classrooms in East Jerusalem had grown to 2,672 units, stating that “authorities have perpetuated the classroom shortage by not allocating sufficient land to build more classrooms in East Jerusalem”.

The report also worryingly noted that 36 percent of students drop out of school in East Jerusalem. Anecdotally, the number of boys that drop out is higher than girls. As men are often the main breadwinner in families here, this raises a serious question about what the boys go on to do with their time, considering their low skill levels and the lack of opportunities for employment, and its overall impact on the society.

As a result of parent perception of the inadequacy of public schools, many are forced to turn to private education. This is extremely costly, particularly when one considers the economic situation in East Jerusalem characterised by low wages and high taxes.

Hearts and minds

The other worrying feature of the current situation is Israel’s attempt to influence children’s understanding of their identity and how they should view it. It has been trying to do this through the imposition of the Israeli curriculum as opposed to the PA curriculum in East Jerusalem schools. Israel has been trying to do this for years but, having faced severe resistance from parents and the schools themselves, it is now linking the release of investment in schools to the adoption of the curriculum.

People I talked to during my recent visit referred to this as “educational blackmail”. Several told me they felt that Israel “was brainwashing our children to forget their Palestinian identity while at the same time becoming admirers of their occupier,” as one put it.

The Israeli curriculum refers to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and encourages children to celebrate what Israel has done since capturing it or, as they refer to it, as its “unification”. This is only one example of how Israel attempts to impose its own narrative on impressionable young children in early school years.

My recent experience though tells me that Israel cannot win the battle for the hearts of the children who are Palestinian, feel Palestinian and will grow up as Palestinian. Israel may feel that imposing its own narrative through blackmail may change minds, but it will fail. Palestinian schools may adopt the Israeli curriculum in order to secure funds, but Israel should realise that the industrious and proud Palestinians will ensure their children think Palestinian too.

East Jerusalem may be under occupation, but the hearts and minds of the children are not.

– Kamel Hawwash is a British-Palestinian engineering professor based at the University of Birmingham and a longstanding campaigner for justice, especially for the Palestinian people. He is vice chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and appears regularly in the media as commentator on Middle East issues. He runs a blog at www.kamelhawwash.com. He writes here in a personal capacity.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.